Q&A with Anna Potter,, author of “The Flower Fix”

By Shelley Pierce | June 9, 2019
Image by Quarto Knows
by Shelley Pierce
June 9, 2019

Anna Potter is the florist behind the Sheffield flower shop Swallows and Damsons. Her style of arranging has a luxe and wild feel that uses containers of all sorts and moves beyond the confines of blooms in her decoration – incorporating foliage, fruit and vegetables, sea shells and most things that grow out of the ground. In her latest book, The Flower Fix, Potter presents inspiring modern arrangements that will bring a floral boost to your home with 26 tailor-made combinations of flowers. Read on to learn more and enter below to win one of three copies from Quarto Publishing Group.

1.  In your book you talk about the many benefits of flower arranging.  What does flower arranging mean for you and do for you on a personal level?

For me, flower arranging is a place somewhere between chaos and order, where the wild rules and the only thing for me to do is pick out the tones in a room, position a vase or imagine a narrative.

Over the years my preferred style of arranging has shifted from using the flowers I like, in the type of vessels I like, to a less controlled flower-led approach where more attention is paid to the natural curves and bends of certain flowers that might be better suited somewhere I wouldn’t have instinctively thought. Flowers I don’t really like to make arrangements with, when used in new and different ways that reflect their natural qualities and the environment they are in, are powerful enough to change an opinion entirely.

2. How does your book help those looking to play, experiment and create atmosphere with flowers?

The book describes and suggests many ways we can be creative and playful with flowers, and helps to think of outside-of-the-box arrangements and creations.

I spend so much time planning to the very finest detail weddings, events and the family calendar that every now and then it feels in equal parts creatively freeing and terrifying when all the spinning plates stop and all that’s left is some ingredients, a space and world of possibility. It’s in these times I’m reminded by Carl Jung’s words “The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the objects it loves.”

Even if not by default I would recommend to anyone this practice. An exercise in unplanned creative play, whereby expectations and preconceived ideas are left at the door. To go as far as even the daring possibility of not photographing the final piece.

3. You have owned a florist shop since 2008 – Swallows and Damsons.  Tell us about your journey to becoming a florist – how did that happen?

My flower journey really began when I was just a small child, we had a big garden growing up and my Nana used to grow many different varieties of roses which I used to enjoy picking and pulping the petals into perfume. I’ve been entranced with flowers ever since.  I completed a degree in Fine Art and after that was fortunate enough to get a job at a small flower shop in Sheffield. It was there I realised floristry was the perfect fit for me.  I worked with florists who had differing styles but eventually began to feel creatively frustrated. I wanted to work in a more natural, garden style and there was nothing really around like that at the time. I founded and opened Swallows & Damsons just over ten years ago so I could create the style of flowers I was drawn to. We still remain a little shop in the heart of the community creating bunches for all life occasions whilst reaching a worldwide audience on Instagram and working internationally on editorials, weddings and commissions.

4. You have an amazing following on Instagram for Swallows and Damsons– 181k followers.  What do you attribute this successful following to?  Why do you think people connect to your photographs the way they do?

Thank you so much. At the time we joined Instagram it was much different to how we know it now, so timing has really been on our side. I think engagement on other accounts, quality photography and creativity, as well as positive messages grounded in reality have all played a part in our growing following. I think people connect with our photographs because they’re quite different to other floristry photographs out there.  We only ever use natural light in our arrangements. I love one directional light, like an old Dutch Masters painting where half of the arrangement is almost covered in shadow. It adds a mystical element where the viewer can really use their imagination.

5. Where are the flowers from your shop Swallows and Damsons sourced from?  Do you maintain personal flower gardens that you take cuttings from for your shop? What flowers do you recommend be grown in a personal flower garden for those wishing to foray into flower arranging?

We use a mixture of wild and foraged and shop bought blooms. Foraged branches and foliage add a wild and an unruly backdrop for the more structured blooms. Most of our designs incorporate elements of both.

I have a small wild unkempt garden at home where I grow special varieties of flowers that are difficult to get hold of from flower markets or growers. They have to be kept out of the reach of two adventurous children who, like myself, are curious and enjoy dissecting them.

Some favourite flowers for arranging of mine that are grown at home are bearded iris, tulips, dhalias, cosmos and astrantia.

6.  What are some secrets to making beautiful flower arrangements? 

Flower arranging can be a contemplative practise considering each stem, its curves and bends, getting to know the weight of a heavy bloom and how strong its stem is – all have huge implications as to where best to place them in a design where they’ll best be seen. Working with a natural product is an exercise in letting go of control. If something happens to it that you don’t expect or even ‘a mistake’ then if you embrace it and it can lead you somewhere you haven’t planned. The more controls you impose then the less creative it becomes. You can miss something new that way.

So much of the media is about creating the ‘perfect’ body, face, lifestyle and this notion is counter to a natural style of floral design. There’s individuality in a misshapen bloom, potential for amazing shapes in a wonky stem, detail and pattern in a battered and torn leaf. The weathering and time worn marks are a testament to the miracle that even through the harshest conditions of breaking through the dirt and being blown and beaten in wind and hail or scorched in drought, a bloom in whatever shape or form is to be celebrated.

So by letting go of what we are told is desirable, fashionable or something of beauty we are free to create a bouquet unique to ourselves, whilst celebrating nature’s truly marvellous treasures.

Enter to win one of three copies of The Flower Fix!

To enter, simply leave a comment on this blog post by midnight (EST) on Sunday, June 16, 2019 (be sure to provide a valid e-mail address) in answer to the following question:

What flowers do you feel create the perfect flower arrangement?

Be sure to include a valid e-mail address. The winner will be drawn at random from all qualified entrants, and notified via e-mail. (See rules for more information.)

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